Manager’s List of Potential Cloud Computing Risks

In Manager’s List of Potential Cloud Computing Benefits I promised to write up a list of risks, so here it is. The question probably isn’t “should I use cloud services or not?”, but “which activities and data would be safe to migrate to the cloud?”. You’ll have thought of most of these; if you see something new, writing this post has been worthwhile.

Service Interruption
This could happen due to technical problems at the cloud supplier, their financial collapse, or your being caught in the crossfire if servers at your cloud supplier were seized because of suspected criminal activity by another tenant at the data centre. This may drive you towards cloud offerings of the bigger suppliers. Since it’s now so easy to reconfigure an environment, there may also be an increased risk of your own people bringing Production down with uncontrolled or badly thought-out changes.

Remember that the cloud data centre is at the end of a much longer wire than your local servers. This is something you’ll have to consider if your processes involve shifting large amounts of data around regularly.

Among possible cloud benefits is transferring costs from capital to revenue expenditure. A downside of this could be that it’s harder for management to control day-to-day revenue expenses. What if your developers light up some expensive machines and forget to turn them off? You may have a cost limit on the subscription, but if your subscription is disabled when you hit that limit, you can’t really sit and wait until next month can you? If you do take time to plan it all out, you’ll probably avoid most of these problems.

Security (Physical)
The physical security of your data will also change if it is stored at a data centre. As described elsewhere, it may improve. Is the data centre in another country? For DR (disaster recovery) purposes you certainly wouldn’t want the centre to be next door, and your provider can improve security by replicating your data across different locations. If one or more of these are in a foreign country, the standard of protection may be more difficult to assess.

Security (Legal)
The legalities around data stored at the cloud service company will be different to those connected with data on your premises. The cloud service provider may also not be as committed as you are to resist legal or quasi-legal enforcement action in relation to your data. On the other hand, they may have better lawyers than your company can afford.

Are you required to store your data within a certain territory? You’ll need to check where the cloud data centre is located. A hybrid solution may be possible, where the data is indexed in the cloud but stored physically on your premises.

Tie-In (Supplier)
“Tie-in” is sometimes exaggerated as a problem, but does need to be considered, if only for “due diligence”. You won’t find it easy to move to another supplier as there will have to be considerable adaptation of your software, and a migration process which would probably have to be planned and executed in a rush. You’ll want to check on the service quality of the supplier that you are committing to. You’ll need also to consider whether the pricing of the service will always be as attractive as it is now.

Tie-In (Architecture)
A commitment to a cloud supplier is of course a commitment to cloud architecture, so if the pricing of cloud services generally were to rise, you would have the burden of converting your processes to run on your premises. As above, you may also be able to dispose of this issue fairly quickly, since you no doubt accept dependencies on broadband and other services to run your business.

DevOps means that cloud services are now something of a moving target. Updates (and bugs) are shipped very quickly, and features can be added (or retired) quickly too. If an item is on the deprecated list of the on-premise product, it may have already been removed from the cloud offering. The risk to your application code is clear.

PS: If you want to hear what Microsoft has to say about some of these issues you’ll find it here.

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